A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

When the UV index is high, we know to look for shade—especially those who, like me, burn at the drop of a hat. When there’s a blizzard, we know to get off the roads and find a safe place to wait it out. And when there’s a thunderstorm, we know to seek shelter, and not under a tree.

We know how to handle tough weather conditions, but we don’t always know how to deal with the storms life sends our way. We may try to cope by spending more time at work, looking for ways to numb or block out the pain, or overindulging—anything to keep from feeling what we feel.

Why do we try to tough it out rather than turn to God?

In Psalm 118:5*, the psalmist says this:

Out of my distress I called on the LORD;

the LORD answered me and set me free.

Sometimes we’re slow to call on the Lord, even though we know that he is always faithful, always ready to hear our prayers, always merciful and loving, and always a safe place for us, as we read in verses 8 and 9:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD

than to put confidence in man.

It is better to take refuge in the LORD

than to put confidence in princes.

We need people in our lives we can trust and depend on but, being only human, people will let us down, sometimes through no fault of their own. God will always be there for us, no matter what challenges come our way—health concerns, job loss, financial problems, even betrayal by a friend or loved one.

When we face difficult times—and we will—it’s good to know that we have a God who is ready to listen and comfort us and help us make it through those times to better days so that we, like the psalmist, will know that the Lord is our strength.

The LORD is my strength and my song;

he has become my salvation.

~ Psalm 118:14

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

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With so much going on right now—including the constant effort to keep my home ready to show potential buyers on short notice and concern for a loved one who started chemo treatments this week—sometimes I forget to just take a breath.

It seems as though my mind and body are busy from the moment my alarm goes off in the morning till the moment I turn off the lamp on my bedside table at night. And if I’m not just thinking about what’s going on, I’m praying about it as I push through my day.

But here’s some food for thought from Psalm 94:18-19*:

When I thought, “My foot slips,”

your mercy, O LORD, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many,

your consolations cheer my soul.

We can easily get so caught up in our worries and cares and hectic lives that we don’t recognize the reason we can keep going: God, in his mercy, is holding us up and even carrying us when we struggle to go on. And we can miss the joyful moments he sends us to help us soldier on.

This week, my son celebrated his 16th birthday. As we go through a difficult time, I know that he is one of the consolations God has given me, showing more thoughtfulness and maturity than most people would expect of someone his age. And so we took the time to make his birthday special with a homemade card; thoughtfully chosen gifts; a family game of basketball before our dinner that he helped barbecue; more family time; and, of course, a chocolate cake with chocolate icing that I made. It was a joy to press pause on everything else and celebrate my son, who is, as I told him the other day, becoming a wonderful young man of good character.

Maybe we can press pause—not necessarily for a day, but for a few moments—to reflect on our lives and notice the consolations God sends us when we’re struggling: family members who stand behind us, a parish community that supports us, friends who call just when we need someone to listen, the gift of our children who brighten our lives.

And maybe, just maybe, our cares might seem a little easier to bear.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

When talking about a task we truly enjoy, we might describe it as a labour of love—something we’d do even if we weren’t paid for our work because it brings us pleasure.

For one person, that task could be designing and building furniture or a garden; for another, cooking and baking; for yet another, caring for children or grandchildren.

For how many of us would that task be an act of service to our parish, such as serving as a lector or Eucharistic minister, or to our community, such as volunteering at the local food or furniture bank?

What put this in my mind? The other day, I read these verses in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3*:

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

If our work in our parish or community isn’t a labour of love, are we serving in a position not suited to our skills and abilities—possibly something we agreed to do because no one else stepped forward or we were “voluntold” to fill the role?

Years ago, I served as an usher and greeter at the church I attended. I wasn’t suited to the role and didn’t enjoy serving. But when I had the opportunity to act as a lector, I felt very much at home. I still enjoy serving as a lector and, for over a year, as a Eucharistic minister; I feel blessed to serve my parish in this way and as though I’m in the right place.

If we’re not sure what the right place is for us, we can talk to our parish priest or to the leaders of a community organization we support to find out where there’s a need for volunteers and try different roles on for size, as well as pay attention to those times when we see someone else serving and think, “I’d like to do that.” In fact, that’s what started me on the path to helping serve Communion.

I pray that, if we’re not already serving in our parish or the wider community, the Holy Spirit would guide us in discovering just what our labour of love would be.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

As I pushed my cart through the store aisles this morning, Duffy’s song “Mercy” began to play over the loudspeaker.

It got me thinking about mercy—how we experience it, how we show it to others, and how we benefit from God’s mercy.

As children, we might think of mercy as that game where people try to bend back each other’s hands until they give up and say, “Mercy!” When we’re older, we might think of mercy as the kindness we show to those in dire need—such as the victims of a natural disaster, war or persecution—or as something a leader or a judge exercises in sparing a prisoner from a harsh sentence.

Every day, whether we realize it or not, we benefit from God’s mercy. Every day, we fall short of his expectations. Deliberately or not, we hurt others; we fail to show kindness even when it would cost us little; we refuse to recognize others’ needs, rights, dignity and humanity. Yet God continues to give us opportunities to learn from and correct our mistakes. To do better. To become more like him.

Do we ever wonder why? Read these words from Psalm 103:8-12*:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is his mercy toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Since we’re called to become more like Christ, if that’s what we truly want, then why do we hang onto our anger or hold grudges or vow to make others pay for their wrongs against us? Are we like the unmerciful servant who, forgiven his own debt, threw a fellow servant into prison until he paid what he owed (see Matthew 18:23-35)?

If God held onto his anger, if he paid us in full for our sins, if he insisted on our being able to repay what we owed without giving us the chance to repent and be forgiven, would we be able to stand before him?

May we remember these words of the Lord as he passed before Moses, being thankful that he is a merciful God and striving to be more like him:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness, keeping merciful love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. . . .”

~ Exodus 34:6-7

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

 

I tend to be more critical than I’d like, but—like many people, I suspect—I’m especially critical of myself:

  • Instead of simply cleaning up any mess I’ve made when I’ve dropped things while trying to carry too much, I’ve wished I were less clumsy.
  • When I’ve struggled with my weight, I’ve looked in the mirror and felt disgusted by my reflection.
  • And when I’ve worked and hoped for what seems unlikely or even impossible, I’m tempted to call myself an idiot.

Why are we so hard on ourselves? Because our culture warns us not to think too much of ourselves in case someone feels the need to take us down a peg, do we take ourselves down two or three?

Deep down, we know that scolding ourselves or calling ourselves names does nothing to help us change for the better.

We can take heart in reading this quote from Remade for Happiness: Achieving Life’s Purpose Through Spiritual Transformation by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:

You will shake off your faults more readily when you love God than when you criticize yourselves.

When we criticize ourselves, we’re likely to feel small, incompetent and unable to change; when we love God, we want to walk in his ways.

We need to remember that God loves us just as we are—flawed and human—but he wants us to become more like him day by day. For some, that means learning to let go of anger and to forgive; for others, learning to stop using food, cigarettes, alcohol or other things as a way to deal with our feelings; for all of us, learning to be merciful and compassionate to ourselves.

I pray that we would grow less critical of ourselves and, in so doing, grow less critical of and more compassionate toward others.

 

For the past few weeks, my life has revolved around preparing my house for sale. I’ve been cleaning, purging, packing and donating items, but much of the work has been done by others: the real estate agent, carpet stretcher, piano movers, hardwood floor refinisher, painter, window installers, and repairman/renovator.

We’ve been living out of suitcases at my parents’ home and living in our finished basement owing to a lack of furniture on the hardwood floors upstairs—and to the fact that there’s a piano in the middle of my kitchen, waiting to be moved from there back into the living room.

To say things have been a little chaotic would be an understatement. And along with the physical effort and upheaval, my emotions are all over the place: worry about how long it could take to sell, sadness about the changes in my life, anxiety about what lies ahead.

Finding a little quiet in the chaos remains easier said than done. But even in the chaos, I still find God.

I talk to him about my doubts and fears and my lack of strength, and he is always with me. And he has blessed me with, as one pastor used to describe it, “God-incidences.” Skilled tradespeople have been able to fit me into their schedules on short notice and at a good price. Music and yoga teachers and people at church as well as extended family have provided me with more of a support network than I could have hoped for, given that I struggle with reaching out to others. And my son has been more helpful and cooperative than usual.

Whether our chaos is the unexpected kind or the everyday chaos of school or work and family responsibilities, I pray that we would find those moments where we share what’s on our hearts with God and let him speak to us in the way he chooses—through an offer of help or support when we need it, a timely job opportunity, even beautiful sunshine after cloudy days or birdsong early on a cool spring morning. May we open our hearts to hear his voice.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

~ Psalm 95:7*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

To those in the Ottawa area, this title probably seems odd, with snow falling and ice pellets, freezing rain and rain in the forecast for the next 24 hours. But I was inspired by these words in Psalm 84:11*, which I read yesterday:

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;

he bestows favor and honor.

Right now, I’m facing a number of personal challenges–not just the work to sell my home but, among other things, the fact that someone in my family is reeling after a diagnosis of cancer. It comforts me to know that God is there to protect and shelter me because of his merciful and everlasting love for me and for all his children.

When we deal with challenges–physical, emotional, financial–we may instinctively want to keep the struggle to ourselves or try to power through it on our own. But God is there to lead us to people who can help us get through it, to comfort us with the knowledge that he will always hear us and never abandon us, to show us the way forward.

We may feel that our problems are too insignificant in the grand scheme of things to “bother” God about. Or that they’re too big for God to handle. We may not find our prayers answered in the way that we’d hoped, but no problem that confronts us is so small as to be beneath his notice. Remember these words of Jesus in Luke 12:24:

“Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”

Nor does any problem loom too large for him to overcome. Think of the Lord’s words in Jeremiah 32:27:

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?”

Whatever challenges we face, I pray that we would remember what an awesome God we have–a God who longs to spend time with us and talk with us and who wants us to bring our thanks and our cares to him.

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

~ Matthew 7:7-8

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

Spring has arrived and change along with it as I find myself preparing to sell my home.

The past week or so has been a whirlwind of arranging appointments with tradespeople and sorting my belongings. I’ve packed a couple of dozen boxes, donated a dozen bags to the St. Vincent de Paul bin at my church, and set aside a pile of craft supplies for my nieces.

Downsizing from my bungalow to a condo is proving to be a challenge. As I sort through twenty years of accumulated belongings, it seems as though each item has a memory attached to it and letting go hurts a little bit. A lot, in some cases.

Sometimes these seasons of change come by choice and at other times, unexpectedly. In either case, we need to lean on God and find in him the courage to let go of the less important things so that we can move forward.

We need to remember that our belongings don’t contain our memories–our hearts do. Even if the memories are bittersweet, we can be thankful for the joy God has allowed us to know and maybe even find ourselves anticipating what lies ahead.

The biggest lesson for me in all of this? Learning to reach out for help or connect by phone, by text or in person when I need to. In times of change, we need to be unafraid to rely on others. Most of all, we need to lean into our faith, trusting that God will carry us when we feel we can’t keep going.

Whatever winds of change may be blowing in our lives, I pray that we would remember these words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

20150526_190214

Just a couple of months until spring sports start!

Yesterday’s weather surprised me: my car’s thermometer gave the temperature as a mild 10°C and a light rain was falling as I headed home from running some errands. Today, when I was eating breakfast, I noticed fog and brownish grass poking through the snow in the park behind my house.

With the heavy snow we had not so long ago, my front and back yards are still covered, but the streets are pretty bare and we’re wearing shoes and lighter coats instead of heavy winter boots and outerwear.

Have I heard or seen robins yet? No, but milder weather is on the horizon and, as much as I enjoy winter, I’m not all that sorry to see it packing its bags and waving goodbye.

We’re quick to spot the signs of spring in nature—longer days, more sun, warmer temperatures, the return of songbirds—but how quick are we to notice them in our own lives?

When we’re going through a rough patch, it might seem as though winter will always be with us. Our worry or fear or problems may feel like a January chill settling in our hearts that the sun won’t thaw.

But that’s when we most need to ask God to show us the signs of new life in our lives: a larger and stronger support network than we had before, growth in our faith, the desire and the will to start living again and expanding our comfort zone by trying new things.

I’ve had some wintry days in my heart in the past few months, but I feel the onset of spring. I’ve started taking better care of my health and seeing positive results. Spending more time having fun with my family. Putting more effort into finding a full-time job. Reaching out to people and making stronger connections as well as new ones. Talking to God often and letting him speak to me in prayer, through his word in the Bible, and through the homilies and advice of my parish priest.

Winter may be long, but spring always comes. If we struggle to believe the end of winter is in sight, I pray that we would ask God to open our hearts to see and feel the change of season.

What a wondrous time is spring

When all the trees are budding

The birds begin to sing

The flowers start their blooming

That’s how it is with God’s love

Once you’ve experienced it

~ “Pass It On” by Kurt Kaiser

Something might seem obvious to others—as plain as the nose on one’s face—and yet we can’t see it. Sometimes we’re so focussed on our problems that we can’t see what’s right in front of us.

Personally, I’m a bit stressed right now, a state as familiar as breathing for most of us these days. And I’ve been feeling kind of alone as I try to cope with the stress. I’m a bit guarded, so my support system isn’t as big as I’d like it to be.

All of a sudden, I’ve found myself being offered support when I just took a moment to reach out—from my extended family, my pastor, my music teacher, even a couple of my yoga instructors. A kind word in person or by e-mail and phone, an offer of prayer, an invitation to talk if I needed to, a quick hug.

These caring people might have been obvious sources of support to others, and yet I hadn’t realized I could count on their kindness.

How often do we miss the opportunities God presents us with to turn to family and friends for comfort or advice, to make a new friend, to support a colleague, to help a neighbour? How often do we miss the chance to connect with others because we’re hesitant to count on others and to trust? How often do we keep relationships superficially friendly because we’re afraid to open up in case others don’t like what they see?

So much of our contact these days doesn’t go beyond the surface. We deal with automated telephone systems and tellers and auto-reply messages. We like, share, and connect online but don’t form real relationships.

We need to open our eyes and our hearts to the chances God gives us to form new and lasting friendships and partnerships so that, when we need to rely on others because of illness or some other crisis, we don’t find ourselves standing alone—and so that we can offer that helping hand, that listening ear, that shoulder to cry on when someone else needs it.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up.

~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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